Wandering Over the Plains of the Nephites

Wandering Over the Plains of the Nephites May 18, 2015

In my last post, on the Book of Mormon, I asked a question: Does the Book contain a statement or idea about the New World that Joseph Smith could not have known at the time, but which has subsequently been validated by archaeological or historical research?

I mention this point because the apologist literature includes a good number of flat mis-statements about what Smith could or could not have known, eg he supposedly could not have known that there were cities and civilizations on American soil. But that is simply wrong. Anyone growing up in the US in the early nineteenth century knew perfectly well about the ancient lost cities that lay under the new nation. Exploring that point tells us a great deal about how Smith’s generation viewed the world.

During Smith’s childhood, US expansion into the Ohio country produced countless reports of the discovery of quite vast remains from the ancient mound-builder cultures, including geometric earthworks, road systems and giant carved figures – many of which were recorded, but are now lost. One of the most astonishing such complexes, at Newark, Ohio, became a white settlement in 1802. The following year, when Ohio gained statehood, the first capital was actually at Chillicothe, setting for still more mound remains. The Serpent Mound was first mapped in 1815. Then Americans pushed west to the Mississippi. By 1818, steamboats were sailing from St. Louis, allowing travelers easy access to such stunning treasures as the Cahokia mound complex.

These stories circulated through newspapers, prints, and of course travelers’ tales. Nobody could doubt that America had been home to ancient settlements and even substantial cities, and everyone knew that mere Indians could not have constructed them (as of course they had). It just remained to discover which set of unknown immigrants had done the deed. And if these immigrants had once existed, clearly they did not exist any longer, so they must have been wiped out centuries ago, presumably by Indians. As so often, the Book of Mormon is summarizing the standard knowledge and commonplaces of the US in the 1820s.

This gets to the issue of where Smith and his first followers thought the events in the Book of Mormon had taken place. Beyond doubt, they were locating the action around them, not just in the Americas generally but in the United States, and just over its then-borders. And, they believed, the Moundbuilder remains offered material confirmation for the Book’s tales. In 1834, Smith was traveling across western Illinois when, near Griggsville, he passed the mound burial of one he identified as Zelph, a “white Lamanite” of the Book of Mormon era. (Griggsville is a hundred miles north of Cahokia, and a hundred miles south of the later Nauvoo).

To adapt the famous line by the writer Saki, Romance at short notice was Joseph Smith’s specialty.

The following day, he wrote that

The whole of our journey, in the midst of so large a company of social honest and sincere men, wandering over the plains of the Nephites, [my emphasis] recounting occasionally the history of the Book of Mormon, roving over the mounds of that once beloved people of the Lord, picking up their skulls and their bones, as a proof of its divine authenticity, and gazing upon a country the fertility, the splendour and the goodness so indescribable, all serves to pass away time unnoticed

If you want to see a precise map of Nephite and Lamanite America, as imagined by Joseph Smith, then you can find one easily by looking at this helpful map of moundbuilder remains. Only from the 1840s, with growing awareness of Central America’s archaeological heritage, did Mormon eyes turn to Meso-America.

To find hypothetical remains of the Book of Mormon’s world, then, we should be looking in the Eastern US and the Midwest, areas very thoroughly known to archaeologists. Finding ancient cities and ritual complexes (temples?) in this region is actually easy: just look at Cahokia, Newark, Etowah, Moundville ….

No credible scholar, though, doubts that all such sites were constructed by the predecessors of historical Native American populations.

I can’t emphasize this too strongly. In most ways, the Book of Mormon apologists are harmless enough, but in this particular, the whole literature is deeply unsavory. The core idea, frequently repeated, is that there is a Great Mystery about the origins of New World remains, whether we are dealing with North American mound cities or Central American temple complexes. Who could this mysterious lost race of builders have been, the ones who were there before the Indians?

This harks back exactly to the core racist theme of nineteenth century pseudo-scholarship, the idea that simple savage Indians could not have done such wonderful things, so it just remained to find the civilized people who really did it. A dead giveaway in such apologias is the suggestion of a lost pre-Indian race. It’s precisely the same mindset that led generations of white academics to debate for generations which lost people build Central Africa’s spectacular Great Zimbabwe remains, before concluding that, of course, black Africans themselves were responsible.

To say things as simply as possible: no, there is not the slightest mystery in assigning credit for any New World remains, which were built by Native peoples, First Nations or, if you prefer, Indians.


IMAGE SOURCE: Wikimedia Commons, public domain

One addendum. There is a nice story about Cahokia here, with some terrific visuals.


Some books I’ve found useful on all this include Stephen Williams, Fantastic Archaeology: The Wild Side Of North American Prehistory (Philadelphia : University of Pennsylvania Press, 1991); Roger G. Kennedy, Hidden Cities: The Discovery And Loss Of Ancient North American Civilization (New York: Free Press 1994); George R. Milner, The Moundbuilders (London: Thames & Hudson, 2005); Timothy R. Pauketat, Cahokia: Ancient America’s Great City on the Mississippi (New York, N.Y. : Viking, 2009); and especially, Timothy R. Pauketat, ed., The Oxford Handbook of North American Archaeology (New York : Oxford University Press, 2012).

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  • I will restate my previous comments from your other post after adding a question as to when you will be writing about the same topic in regards to the Bible? Really, if the Bible isn’t true, then the Book of Mormon cannot be true either, so you may as well start at the source.

    “This is what archaeologists have learned from their excavations in the Land of Israel: the Israelites were never in Egypt, did not wander in the desert, did not conquer the land in a military campaign and did not pass it on to the 12 tribes of Israel. Perhaps even harder to swallow is that the united monarchy of David and Solomon, which is described by the Bible as a regional power, was at most a small tribal kingdom. And it will come as an unpleasant shock to many that the God of Israel, YHWH, had a female consort and that the early Israelite religion adopted monotheism only in the waning period of the monarchy and not at Mount Sinai.” – Ze’ev Herzog

    I think the greatest myth about the Book of Mormon is the one that it is a perfect book or a perfect translation. That is just silly. There is no such thing. Divinely written and translated, sure – but so is the Bible. The Bible isn’t perfect either. They are both only as perfect as their writers, copyists and translators. The small plates are Nephi looking back, then others writing down what they “feel” is important. Most of the rest is one guy’s re-write of history through his own eyes, the final part being a cobination of the two written by himself – his story – and his son, Moroni. Then, Joseph Smith Jr. Translates it and of course his human frailties will be evident in the writing. Are there things in the book Smith didn’t know about? Yes. You can map Nephi’s journey pretty well through the Middle East and locations (not all, but too many to be coincidence) even though Smith didn’t have a map of the area. There are odd lineups with ancient people in central America and people in the Book of Mormon, though very imperfect. The reality is that Smith was bound to put his own perspective into the translation as much as Mormon and Moroni put their own world view into their writings. Why do you think the book is full of wars? Because Mormon and his son were warriors. Why is there so much about God’s threats to destroy the Nephites if they were wicked? Because that is what Mormon and Moroni both lived through. My favorite example of Smith’s poor translation skills is the words “captain” and “king” in the book of Mormon. Sure, Smith knew that all Nephite leaders were called Nephi, and Egyptian word that means captain, yet he kept calling Nephite leaders “king” in the book of Mosiah (and likely in the book of Lehi as well) and he called Captain Moroni Captian Moroni and the Kingsmen Kingsmen when in fact it should have read Nephi Moroni vs the Kingsmen. This would have had a greater effect as to the type of man this Moroni was, one that was a true Nephite leader, vs those trying to make a king. It would have also been Nephi Mosiah, Nephi Benjamin, etc. The Book of Mormon is true by being what it claims to be – a book written and translated for “the convincing of the Jew and Gentile that Jesus is theChrist, the Eternal God, manifesting himself unto all nations.” It never claims to be a perfect historical account.


  • philipjenkins

    If you will wait till Friday, you will read my post on these issues. You might even be shocked to find what nice things I have to say about Joseph Smith.
    I also take account of that debate on the Exodus.

    My difference with you, though, is this. We can argue lots of things about the Bible, and dismiss the credibility of large sections of it. But it describes a real world that actually existed in the Near East at the times mentioned. With the Book of Mormon, though, the issue is whether any of the historical background whatever is correct.

    Oh, and let me say: I am anything but a fundamentalist, but Herzog is adopting an extreme, extreme position in what he says there. I am quite prepared to believe in the United Monarchy, and many mainstream scholars would agree with me. Herzog is Minimalism run riot and on a far fringe of the scholarly consensus.

    I have no problem with the early idea of a female consort.

  • Caleb G

    Qwerty raises an important question: If the Book of Mormon makes historical claims that modern science/archeology has invalidated, then is not the Bible also invalidated if it makes historical claims that modern science/archeology have shown to be incorrect? I attended a conservative Bible college and in a “Cults” class we watched a video entitled “DNA vs. the Book of Mormon.” This video showed how the DNA evidence contradicts the historical claims found in the book of Mormon. This video implies that Mormonism is false because DNA findings contradict the book of Mormon. Several of my classmates praised this video as a powerful witnessing tool to use with Mormons to show them the error of their ways. But yet if these same classmates/profs were confronted by the DNA findings which indicate there was no historical Adam (by which I mean there was never a time in the past when only 2 humans existed) then they would dismiss those results. I realize many Christians would say a historical Adam is not necessary for Christianity, but many other Christians disagree. Qwerty’s quote from Ze’ev Herzog illustrates some of the archaeological problems with some of the claims found in the Old Testament. Even if Herzog is wrong of about some of his claims such as whether of not YHWH had a consort, only one of his claims needs to be accurate to raise this issue about historical problems with the Old Testament. If modern scientific findings call into question the veracity of the Book of Mormon, should they not also call into question the veracity of the Old Testament?
    I don’t ask this because I want the Old Testament to be wrong. On the contrary, it would be much easier on my faith if there were no historical problems with the Old Testament.

  • Caleb G

    I look forward to this post. You make a fair point. I agree that the Bible describes a real world that actually existed in the Near East, whereas the Book of Mormon does not. My question is this: If one does dismiss the credibility of large sections of the Bible, how can I trust it? This is an existential issue for me. Based on my studies I have arrived at a place in my life where I must admit that the Bible contains things that if found in any other book we would call them errors. And many Christians hold to this position and remain committed Christians. But I am trying to figure if this is possible for me.

  • philipjenkins

    The comment is indeed important and I will address it in the near future. My point though is that the Old Testament is neither “wrong” nor right. Parts of it can be relied on historically, others not. Please don’t imagine that I am setting an infallible Old Testament versus a historically worthless B of Mormon.

  • John Turner


    It may or may not work for you, but I found some inspiration in the writings of B.B. Warfield (filtered through Mark Noll) on this subject.

    Most Christians believe that Jesus Christ is a mysterious combination of the human and the divine. Why should we not believe the same things about scripture? If we proceed from that starting point, then it should not surprise or distress us when we find elements of humanity (including error) in scripture.

  • I see Mr. Jenkins making a lot of sweeping claims about what “apologist literature” says on the topic of Book of Mormon historicity and the early Mormon engagement therewith, and yet I fail to see him engage any of the relevant work done by Sorenson, Roper, Gardner, Wright, and many others on this topic.

    Are you familiar with the work of these scholars, Mr. Jenkins, and if so would you do your readers the kindness of showing your familiarity by actually engaging them? If not, then you’re doing little more than flexing your muscles against some poor straw men.

  • Very valid point, Caleb. I believe that Adam was real because the Book of Mormon backs up the Bible and that, for me, is stronger than DNA evidence. I doubt very much that the Bible is any more or less accurate – historically – than the Book of Mormon. But that doesn’t mean that the people didn’t live even if their stories are embellished. (Also, you are right, LDS apologists have ideas why the DNA doesn’t matter – that’s the thing about faith, where there is a will to believe there is always a way.)

  • I’ll read it, but the reality is that God cannot lie, so the Book of Mormon must be true as God told me that it is. You can make up excuses against it, and I am truly hoping you shock me. I’m in my 40’s and I’ve been anti-ed since high school. I’ve literally been waiting decades for Protestants to come up with something new to bash the Book of Mormon. Most of the stuff I read is just as anti-Bible as it is anti-Book of Mormon. There are archaeologists that say that they have “proven” Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, Saul, David, Solomon, Mary, Jesus, the Apostles, etc are not real. Do I think the Bible tells an accurate tale? No. But I know these people lived, that Christ is my personal Savior, that He Lives and his Blood saves me from Hell. I feel the same way about the Book of Mormon. Sure, maybe Noah was embellished by stories borrowed from the Babylonians, and likewise I have no doubt that Smith’s translation included his own world views. But that doesn’t stop both from testifying of real people that knew God. If you really want to prove the Book of Mormon false, build a time machine. No offence, but man’s logic won’t convince me of something God has shown me is true. Spend some time on my blog, you’ll be quick to see I’m a skeptic. But, I still know God. That said, I do enjoy your posts. You’re the kind of religious thinker I like to chat with 🙂

  • Joseph M

    For an approach to your question about truth in the Bible I would read John H. Walton’s ” The Lost World of Ancient Scripture.” He and his co-author give a very good explanation of how we can radically misinterpret what the Bible says about itself and history by overlaying on it modern assumptions of how books of ‘history’ are put together.

    A good introduction to his approach is seenin this Video


  • Joseph M

    I must say I think its Ironic that this essay was published the day after this one which is mostly concerned with the intra-Mormon fight over BoM geography.


  • Caleb G

    Peter Enn argues for an incarnational view of scripture along these lines. While B.B. Warfield would argue that the Bible is both divine and human, I don’t think he would permit errors in the Scriptures due to their humanity. For Warfield and his theological descendents, allowing for error in Scripture is equivalent to allowing for sin in Jesus. If you have some evidence from Warfield’s writings which would allow for error in the Bible on the basis of its humanity, I would be interested in seeing it.
    The key difference between seems to be in the understanding of what is means to be human. Shakespeare said “to err is human.” Inerrantists would say, “fallen humans err, but Jesus had a perfect human nature which could not err by virtue of the hypostatic-union.”

  • John Turner

    Well, yes, you were getting my partly Enns-inspired “enhancement” of Warfield. And that’s obviously a difference from what the commonsensically Christian meaning of “incarnation” would allow. However, I don’t think there’s much point to humanity in scripture if it doesn’t allow for the limitations of being human.

  • Caleb G

    I do find Enns’ view helpful up to a point. For example, I have no problem with Jesus saying that the mustard seed is the smallest seed. There are smaller seeds, but quite possibly the mustard seed was the smallest seed known to a 1st century Palestinian Jew. But this is much different from saying “Jesus predicted his second coming within the lifetime of his disciples. The second coming did not occur. Therefore, Jesus was wrong.” Can this view of incarnation allow Jesus to make false predictions?

  • Joseph M

    This presupposes both that they understood and then recorded the prophecy correctly and that we are properly understanding it. It could very well be that this prophecy is referring to the Resurrection and establishment of the Church and not the Second Coming.

  • Wayne Dequer

    Professor Phillip Jenkins has done a pretty good job of discussing Book of Mormon archaeology of the 1960’s-1980’s while ignoring the historicity of the Ancient Near Eastern section of the Book of Mormon (1 Nephi). Of course what scholars choose to ignore in presenting their conclusions is critical. Further, Professor Jenkins ignores substantial evidence from the last 35 years. Specifically, he ignores Professor John Sorenson’s “Mormon’s Codex” mentioned before it was published in Patheos in Aug. 2013 at http://www.patheos.com/blogs/danpeterson/2013/08/mormons-codex-a-preview.html . Professor Sorenson, an emeritus Professor of Archaeology from BYU, is admittedly Mormon, but his PhD from UCLA and lifetime of research means his 800 page 2013 masterwork must be dealt with in detail by honest and serious scholars of this field. It shows and documents “why” and “how” many, if not most, of Professor Jenkins criticisms are weak (see also http://en.fairmormon.org/Book_of_Mormon/Anachronisms ).

  • philipjenkins

    That is a future post. At the moment, I am dealing with the New World section. I notice with no surprise that when people cannot produce a word to support the New World material, they resort to citing Old World material, which in fact is just as tenuous. Stick to the New World. Can you cite one concrete example from a reputable source to support your case?

  • philipjenkins

    Put them all together, and have them produce ONE verifiable statement that confirms the Book. You have read them, you say. Which, do you think, is the example, illustration or statement that confirms the Book’s statements? I give you an example. Did the Norse reach North America? Of course, see L’Anse aux Meadows. Did ancient Hebrews reach North America? Sure, just look at …. um…..

  • philipjenkins

    And this amazing translation endeavor produced a book that records a Hebrew settlement of cities, events and battles in the New World, all of which would have left massive material remains had they ever occurred, but which have left no trace whatever in a very well studied landscape? Can you see a problem here?

  • Martha

    More bluster this morning from Philip Jenkins, an obviously biased, non-objective academic. The Book of Mormon does not claim to be a record of mass migration from the Middle East to the Americas. The book starts with one family. Of course there are no large pools of Middle Eastern DNA lying around to analyze. I have no patience for yours and others’ suggestion that faith is just a feeling in the heart. FAITH IS A FORM OF KNOWLEDGE. Obviously Mr. Jenkins, while educated and articulate, is incapable of thinking deeply enough to understand this.

  • philipjenkins

    Where did I use the phrase mass migration? Never did.

    I appreciate your precise definition of how you understand “faith,” as it eliminates anything you say based on that perspective from any form of academic or scholarly discussion. Such an approach is often implied, but you make it clear.

  • Martha

    You don’t talk about a mass migration, but you make a big deal about the lack of Middle Eastern DNA. Why so vitriolic, Philip? Why so defensive?

  • philipjenkins

    I have a specific question. Please point to what part of my writing on this topic is, in your view, “non-objective.” We disagree on content, of course, but I am wondering what leads you to use that phrase.

  • philipjenkins

    If you believe that linguistic evidence is hard verifiable science while archaeology is subjective, your powers of faith are indeed very great.

  • Joseph M

    I am curious, what exactly do you require to count as a trace as southern Mexico and the Yucatan, which is where I think the best match for the internal geography is, are quite full of the ruins of two ancient civilizations.

    Dr. John E. Clark a professional Mesoamerican archaeologist (vita here http://fhssfaculty.byu.edu/ItemViewer.aspx?URL=jec4/pci/Clarks%20CV.2015-1.pdf) presented a paper at a Library of Congress Symposium in honor of Joseph Smith’s birth on things found in the archaeological record that were laughed out of town in the 1830s. Below are links to a revised version he presented latter at the 2005 FAIR conference.

    This Quote is I think relevent to the discussion here.

    “We will be the first to acknowledge that The Book of Mormon has problems with physical evidence that challenges belief, especially the missing metals, plants, and animals. When some Church members see the list we are advertising here, they despair — perhaps because they don’t know how archaeology works, or better still, doesn’t work. Ferguson’s list, and all others like it, are actually good news. As a tally of major deficiencies, this is a very short list indeed, especially for a book which makes several thousand claims about an ancient American past. It is instructive to remember that biblical archaeologists are still looking for evidence of Abraham and Moses after two centuries of searching, so what is a few misplaced grains, metals, and animals among friends? All of the children of Israel who followed Moses out of Egypt are still missing and unaccounted for archaeologically, but their descendants are our friends and neighbors. My message here is that archaeology is among the crudest of methods for establishing facts and truth, so one should not get over-heated about what has or has not been found at any given hour. By focusing only on missing evidence, one loses perspective. We all know what’s missing. A question we should ask more often is: What has been found?

    Before we review some of the recovered items, please remember that if the book were a hoax there should not be any evidence to support it, not even one bottle cap, hair pin, or cigarette butt. Because of the logic of evidence in this instance, one positive correspondence counts for dozens of missing ones. For example, one documented steel sword trumps several herds of missing horses and elephants.”


  • philipjenkins

    Southern Mexico and the Yucatan are indeed full of the remains of ancient civilizations. None of such remains though have any overlap or contact with Middle Eastern or Hebrew worlds. All of them moreover grow from local roots. We also know the language of one of those civilizations in great detail, and it is Maya, no trace of anything Middle Eastern.

    And you have a trap here, do you not? If you see those as Book of Mormon related, then you are talking about a mass population of Nephites and Lamanites, who must have left a massive footprint in the genetic evidence. Yet they don’t.

    Hmm… Two Nephite immigrants hiding in a cave would not have left a genetic sign. Millions building pyramids would have done.

    And again, an interesting question: so why does no real, qualified, competent archaeologist publish evidence of Middle Eastern connections for such Meso-American civilizations, and by that I mean in a real refereed journal? Is it all a conspiracy?

  • Caleb G

    You are correct. We must interpret those passages. Question is which interpretation is the most probable. I think Dale Allison makes some compelling arguments that these passages should be understood as a reference to a public, literal apocalyptic second coming event.

  • VorJack

    “I see that you would rather pin your belief on soft, nonverifiable archeological evidence than on hard, verifiable linguistic evidence.”

    Speaking as a historian, this is the first time I’ve ever heard this sentiment. I might just have to hang this on a wall where the state archeologist might see it.

  • wrapture

    The linguistic ‘evidence’ that you would present is nothing of the sort. Skousen’s theories are amusing and the linguistic and syntax elements that you’d like to claim as signs of divine intervention are all very readily explainable, should you exhibit a willingness to forgo preconceived and unsupportable conclusions designed only to bolster your own faith. If you feel otherwise, you can present them here for inspection and discussion.

  • wrapture

    ‘Faith is a form of knowledge’ only so much as it might prove that it cannot be trusted as such.

  • Wayne Dequer

    Thank you for you kind reply, Professor Jenkins. You asked for one concrete example so I’ll provide a couple that are related:

    1) The existence of native American written language was unavailable in Joseph Smith’s information environment in 1830 when the Book of Mormon was published, but having a prominent role in the Book of Mormon account.

    2) The multiple parallels between sound and meanings of at least hundreds of Uto-Aztecan words and those in ancient Near Eastern languages [see http://www.bmaf.org/sites/bmaf.org/files/image/Egyptian-Semitic-in-Uto-Aztecan-by-Brian-Stubbs-Jerry-Grover.pdf . See also “Mormon’s Codex: An Ancient American Book” by John Sorenson 2013, Neal A. Maxwell Institute of Religious Scholarship, Deseret Books for additional information and references (especially pgs. 173-183)].

    If interested readers check the links I have previously given to the Aug. 2013 Patheos article and the FairMormon listing on anachronisms, they will find hundreds of concrete examples. Of course we could also further discuss what constitutes reputable sources.

    Thanks again for your response which has encouraged me to try to to somewhat clarify.

  • philipjenkins

    And you’re serious?

    1. Smith, like any vaguely informed American of the day, knew about the conquest of the Aztecs and knew they had been a great literate society.

    2. See the post to which this is a comment. Smith knew there had been great Indian cities, like Cahokia, and it was an obvious assumption that such a great civilization had been literate.

    3.Re the outrageous self-published thing you sent about Uto Aztecan…. Point me to one of these alleged parallels that is validated in a mainstream scholarly book or refereed journal, just one, and we can talk.

    Otherwise, you are still a million miles short of credibility.

  • Joseph M

    My reading is that what happened was that Laman and Nephi were something more like the Ptolomys in Egypt and became rulers of already extant peoples. Nephite and Lamanite were always more political then ethnic divisions.

    And I think you over estimate our knowledge of Mayan language alot of it we don’t know how to pronounce. I’ve heard of only a handful of people who have the requisite knowledge of both Hebrew and Mesoamerican languages to make the comparison, all of them LDS.

    I don’t think there is any conspiracy but most secular journals would automatically reject any paper which would claim that one of its goals was to establish that one of its primary sources was delivered by an angel.

    A bit on horses in America

  • JohnH2

    We know that the Polynesians reached the Americas, but not everyone agrees with that, though denying it is really hard to do, given the linguistics, the sweet potato, the chickens, and so forth; while still not knowing exactly when or how much contact did occur.

    It is also quite highly likely that there was contact on the side of Europe/North Africa to the Americas, one way, as a ship blown off course would reach the Americas so long as it didn’t sink first even if no one was alive on board, in less time than it took to travel between some of the known ports.

    So is it possible that ancient Hebrews reached the Americas? Sure. Do we have any evidence for that? Well, if we had the plates that Joseph Smith was said to have then that alone would be quite the ‘Monte Verde’, otherwise no, and knowing if we did would itself be a challenge unless essentially something written did show up.

  • Moroni Fielding Kimball
  • Wayne Dequer

    Professor Jenkins,

    Thanks again for taking your time to reply. And, yes I am quite serious. 😉 You asked for one and I gave you two while referencing many more. Of course you now say: “Point me to one of these alleged parallels that is validated in a mainstream scholarly book or refereed journal.” Actually Sorenson, in “Mormon’s Codex”, frequently cites non-LDS, mainstream academics in supporting his points. I referenced it by page number on the topic of languages. 😉

    My academic training (BA History and Anthropology UC Santa Barbara 1969) has taught me to provide references for claims I make and to check references provided by others for accuracy, credibility, and applicability. I have provided you with references and, when reasonable, with links. Unfortunately, you seem to be trying to dismiss evidence out of hand without dealing with the research and references.

    Further, I specifically referred you to http://www.patheos.com/blogs/danpeterson/2013/08/mormons-codex-a-preview.html at this very site on which your are stating your opinions. I found the first comment to that article to be enlightening: “I listened to an interview with Dr. Sorenson where the host asked what he expected to be the professional/academic response to his book. Without hesitation, and with great candor, he replied, ‘Oh, I expect it to be completely ignored. They will simply not engage it.’ For some reason, I find that incredibly admirable that he would put so much effort into a worthy scientific endeavor with both eyes wide open as to how thankless a task it will be—in the academic world.” Of course academics can reasonably disagree with each other, but they should do so based on the evidence while respectfully acknowledging alternatives points of view. Unfortunately, academic arrogance, politics, and belittling are far too common.

    In investigated and joined the LDS faith while an undergraduate at UC Santa Barbara in 1966. I took every undergraduate Archaeology course available, and my opinion of the state of LDS New World archaeology prior to 1970 was it mostly horrendously bad. However, I then listened to and questioned John Sorenson. His approach seemed honest, reasonable and useful. He has taken great care in writing and referencing “Mormon’s Codex” although you can certainly continue to ignore it.

    Finally, It seems to me that you are “professing” (Professors should be good a professing) — that is declaring without providing references to your evidence all of us can check. I encourage you to provide references for your claims at least in our discussions. For instance, would you please supply source material for your point 1 and 2 which contend that most anyone in Joseph Smith’s information environment in 1830 generally knew the Aztecs had a highly literate society and presumed (falsely) that the North American mound builders did also? I can find no support for your claims about what was “common knowledge.”

    Of course we are all free to write most anything we like especially on the internet. The question is are we willing to seriously consider and check what each other has to say on this wonderful intellectually egalitarian forum.

  • David

    Really? You say “My academic training (BA History and Anthropology UC Santa Barbara 1969) has taught me to provide references for claims I make and to check references provided by others for accuracy, credibility, and applicability.” Yet you cite sources like the Maxwell Institute and Book of Mormon Archeological Forum, FAIR and FARMS. All of the people that are working for these institutions are operating under the assumption that LDS truth claims are correct. These are not trustworthy sources.

  • Wayne Dequer

    Thanks, David. Are you suggesting that sources that have any bias should be ignored on all topics? Most of those writing about Mormon topics have strong feelings one way or the other. If you are uninterested in a topic why write about it. I suggest that nearly all sources have some sort of bias on nearly every topic.

    I believe a good source should: 1) acknowledge (disclose) any preconceptions, 2) present well referenced evidences as clearly as possible, and 3) acknowledge alternative points of view and ideally honestly evaluate strengths and weakness of all points of view. I respect and usually trust sources that do all or even most of these things in and out of the LDS faith. These are the rules I try to follow. How about you?

  • Gadianton P. Robbers

    Hello all. Perhaps I can help those unfamiliar with Book of Mormon apologetics understand better where the Mopologists are coming from. As you can see from these recent threads, they do not feel they’ve been given a fair hearing. Bear in mind, my expertise is not history, but Mopologist tactics and psychology.
    The first real scholarly study of Book of Mormon history was probably undertaken by Hugh Nibley. From the best I can tell, Nibley worked extensively by uncovering parallels between the Near East and the BoM to establish influence. He appears strongly influenced by W. F. Albright and perhaps he thought he could do for the BoM what Professor Albright had done for the Bible — he felt the scholarly climate was ripe for legitimizing the BoM even if he wasn’t so concerned with archeology. In fact, Hugh Nibley is on record saying, “I wouldn’t touch Book of Mormon Geography with a ten foot pole.”

    Nibley is revered by the apologists, but not studied seriously these days. The central dogma of all Mopologetics comes from John Sorenson, and we often refer to the central dogma simply as the Limited Geography theory. If a “secular” academic were to pick one apologist work on Book of Mormon Geography and evidences to comment on, then Sorenson’s Codex book is probably the one. Next would be Brandt Gardners books.

    But don’t expect traditional forms of evidence from either. Like Nibley, they do not have a pot to show anyone. Their objective is minimum plausibility. They reason from matters such as “walking distance”, that the geography was small vs. traditional understanding that the BoM peoples covered both North and South America. Take a small area, and now look for a place and time that is consistent with the text of the Book of Mormon. They come up with Mesoamerica.

    But what about horses, steel swords, the huge populations, and more? Well, apparently, they feel the book is consistent with a few adjustments. Horse could really mean tapir — it’s not like we have original documents to argue otherwise. Gardner points out that instead of going to the stable, mounting the horse, and riding into battle, perhaps they went to the stable, got the “horse,” and ate it on the long journey? Maybe a chariot wasn’t really a chariot. Large populations? Well, it’s customary for ancient texts to exaggerate their importance — that right their is evidence of authenticity. Steel? Maybe it wasn’t really steel. But then again, perhaps Stephen Smoot could do some research and help us out with claims about steel. There was a major battle a few years ago between several Phd apologists at BYU and one amateur critic, who was banned from FAIR due to not conceding an argument about the possibility of smelting. Perhaps Sorenson’s evidence for smelting in Mesoamerica could be studied by one of the faithful and presented on this blog for professor Jenkins to examine. It should be an opportunity, and in my opinion, it’s probably the most tangible sorta-evidence the apologists have if they can prove their case.

    As Gardner points out, the apologists have never really been looking for evidence for the Book of Mormon. He says something like, we don’t look for the Book of Mormon in Mesoamerica, but Mesoamerica in the Book of Mormon. As with Nibley, it still comes down to internal evidences for the credentialed apologists. This should help outsiders understand better the frustrations of the apologists when asked for a pot. Sure, they should explain all this themselves, but I don’t mind doing a public service by explaining it for them.

    How seriously should the academic world take these internal approaches to validating the Book of Mormon as a real ancient document? That’s tough to answer. The apologists speak as if there is a great body of faithful literature, but what’s out there is really fragmented. You can’t even take a class on Book of Mormon geography at BYU or on any of these other exercises undertaken to validate the BoM. Someone mentioned Skousen in these threads; a lifetime of study, but the work of a single individual and from what I understand, published without even faithful peer review. Is there merit to any of this? Well, were to start? What’s material to the case? Whose work counts? Sorenson’s is probably the best bet, but it’s nothing like an established research paradigm.

    Should the secular world wait for a peer-reviewed study to be published? Perhaps, but assuming radical bias, I propose an alternative. Take one of the many internal, fringe approaches to establishing Book of Mormon credibility, and first show how the same approach has been used to make a well-accepted case about another document, where there’s no source fragments or external evidences of any kind to help as a guide. From what I gather, some of these approaches connect to real scholarly approaches, but greatly exaggerate the power of such approaches to operate in a vacuum. And that’s before getting to the problem of faithful bias that they’d unlikely grant to any other religion or fringe work outside of their own. You ought to see how badly the apologists have laughed out of court other fringe Mormon scholars who claim to have uncovered and translated the Sealed Portion of the Brother of Jared. They won’t even read and pray about it, let alone spend hours studying it on a scholarly level.

    I don’t blame academics for ignoring these names thrown over the fence as they’ve never published their work in a peer-reviewed journal. However, I would ask academics who blog about these sorts of things to consider the evidence IF the apologists can come up with something concrete to consider and post it here. Something that won’t take thousands of hours of study to sort out. My proposal is smelting, but something else could work too. But let’s be clear and concise with the argument. If an apologist can present a clear case for smelting here, and professor Jenkins will not consider it, then I will be on the side of the apologists.

  • philipjenkins

    That is a very clear and helpful exposition. Thanks so much for defining the issues.

  • Moroni Fielding Kimball

    Thank you Dean Robbers.

  • Wayne Dequer

    How does this reference do for your requested mainstream refereed journal?

    Reviewed Work: Uto-aztecan: a comparative vocabulary by Brian D. Stubbs Review by: Kenneth C. Hill International Journal of American Linguistics, Vol. 78, No. 4 (October 2012), pp. 591-592. (Available through http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1086/667453?seq=1#page_scan_tab_contents )

    Further Stubbs somewhat uniquely familiar with South West Native American Indian languages and Ancient Near Eastern languages (see biographical notes on pg. 16 at http://www.scribd.com/doc/254510927/Egyptian-Semitic-in-Uto-Aztecan-by-Brian-Stubbs-Jerry-Grover#scribd)] I note that Stubbs candidly write about possible objections to his approach and methods under the large font “a few words of caution” at http://bmaf.org/node/487 .

  • philipjenkins

    Tut, tut, tut.

    Please see my earlier comment

    You cite an academic review from the International Journal of American Linguistics. Yet I just read the review, and it does not support Stubbs at all on the Semitic parallels, or even (more interestingly still) mentions that he holds those theories. Do you think it does? If not, why do you cite it thus? As I read the review, it simply reviews Stubbs as a scholar on Uto-Aztecan without mentioning the Semitic/Egyptian stuff, the alleged “similarities between Uto-Aztecan and Ancient Near Eastern Languages.”

    Don’t you think that’s an awfully misleading way of citing a text? Aren’t you trying to give the impression that Stubbs’s Semitic theories have some kind of support in a refereed journal? Which they still don’t.

    Shame, shame, shame.

  • Wayne Dequer

    I love your “Tut, tut, tut” and “Shame, shame, shame.” I also recall your earlier comments including “And you’re serious?” and “you are still a million miles short of credibility.” I respect your right to write whatever you like on the internet and especially in reply to your own article. However, I suspect such comments may say more about you than they do about me.

    Please note: I asked “How does this reference do for your requested mainstream refereed journal?” It was a sincere question. Thank you for sharing your appraisal of the source in question.

    I am not a professional academic as you are so I do not have internet access to Jstor without paying a fee. I have now paid the fee signing up for a month by month access, but the article seem to still be unavailable. I suspect I will have to wait until at least Tuesday to either get help in accessing the article or finding out why it is still unavailable.

    After I am able to deal with Jstor and perhaps access the source, I will comment further.

  • philipjenkins

    Astonishing. You mean you cited it without knowing what is in it? First I thought you were a conscious liar, but you aren’t. You are just too uninformed to be participating in any form of scholarly or academic debate.


  • philipjenkins

    Let me explain the issue here, and this is seriously meant to be helpful. One of the worst sins for an academic is to cite a source as saying something it does not, in order to promote a particular case. If you are a graduate student, something like that can end your career close to overnight. Please understand why what you are doing here-apparently without malicious intent-is so disastrous. You are utterly out of your depth.

  • Wayne Dequer

    Indeed, I should have studied the source before even asking a question. I have now studied it by directly phoning University of Chicago Press who kindly emailed me the article directly. You are correct that it does Not directly talk about Uto-Aztecan and Ancient Near Eastern Language links.

    However, it does say that Stubbs is a bonafide Uto-Aztecan scholar who is doing high quality scholarly work in the field. It goes on to note: “Each set is discussed in some detail and the serious comparativist will delight in the discussions. No one will agree with all of Stubbs’s reconstructions and speculations. It can only be hoped that where other comparativists have well-grounded differences of opinion, that they will be as generous-minded and cheerful in their approach as Stubbs is in this volume. I hope Stubbs’s book sets the tone for future comparative work in UA.” (Reviewed Work: Uto-aztecan: a comparative vocabulary by Brian D. Stubbs Review by: Kenneth C. Hill International Journal of American Linguistics, Vol. 78, No. 4 (October 2012), p. 592.) To me, this reads like an endorsement of Stubbs’ qualifications and methodology in doing comparative linguistic research. Further, Brian Stubbs also hold a PhD in Near Eastern Languages from the University of Utah (see http://publications.maxwellinstitute.byu.edu/people/brian-d-stubbs/ ) and thus his scholarly comparison appears qualified to be taken seriously.

    This strand of our discussion was based on your comment that: “Re the outrageous self-published thing you sent about Uto Aztecan…. Point me to one of these alleged parallels that is validated in a mainstream scholarly book or refereed journal, just one, and we can talk.” Having reread the Stubbs article you so perfunctorily condemned, Stubbs explains the good reasons for posting it on the internet with care, detail and self-effacing humor. Given Stubbs obvious credentials your comment appears to be an ill-informed mischaracterization.

    Now that academic credentials are better established, I also confidently point you to “Looking Over vs. Overlooking: Native American Languages: Let’s Void the Void” at http://publications.maxwellinstitute.byu.edu/fullscreen/?pub=1390&index=1 [“The Journal of Book of Mormon
    Studies” is a peer reviewed academic journal (http://publications.maxwellinstitute.byu.edu/periodicals/jbms/jbmsguidelines/ )]. It is probably the article I should have referenced in the first place. 😉

    P.S. Of course one can still reject all Book of Mormon studies results by defining such information as always outside the mainstream.

  • Wayne Dequer

    Professor Jenkins,

    Thank you for your instructive effort even with your highly condescending last sentence. Of course, Patheos is an internet journal rather than an exclusively scholarly one. I am Not claiming to be a professional scholar, nor am I a graduate student. While we may both choose to use some trapping of academic discussion, this is Not a college or university setting.

    I frankly acknowledge and apologize for listing a source I had Not even read. I have now rectified that mistake and replied elsewhere in this strand about what I gleaned from that source versus your characterization of it. Brian Stubbs has more than adequate scholarly credentials in both Uto-Aztecan and Near Eastern languages for his thesis to be taken seriously.

    The bottom line is that there is significant evidence of numerous words in Uto-Aztecan and Near Eastern languages. As I have previously cited: See “Looking Over vs. Overlooking: Native American Languages: Let’s Void the Void” at http://publications.maxwellinstitute.byu.edu/fullscreen/?pub=1390&index=1 , which is probably the article I should have referenced in the first place.

    Of course we are all free to consider new information or to reject it for whatever reason we like. 😉

    I wish you well in your positive endeavors.

  • Jared Hatch

    Venturing out into an area where I am not an expert here… Disclaimer up front (as apparently this matters to several commentators here) I am a Mormon.

    I realize there are a lot of academic types with lots of points to discuss, both for and against. I don’t have sufficient knowledge to say one thing or the other, so I won’t.

    My question is regarding Quetzalcoatl, this would seem to be a good point for the Book of Mormon, but I never see anyone refute or discuss the fact that the natives of Latin/Central America were expecting the return of a white, bearded God. Strange given that none of them have beards or are white. Again, just looking to see what people say/think on that.

  • Hillary Spragg

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